As 1967beetle.com takes a deeper look into the archives, it is time to shine a bright light once again at one of the best in the business; Lenny Copp of West Coast Classic Restoration. A huge thanks to Timm Eubanks for his talented eye behind the camera, and for taking part in this fantastic featured article we first published in 2011.
Lenny, please tell us a little about yourself, your background, and how you got into Vintage VWs.
My background started in 1972. I was 23 at the time. I had my first mechanics job after graduating from a 6-month auto mechanics school in New Hampshire. I tried all the different dealers like Chevrolet, Ford, etc., and when I went the local VW dealer, they hired me as a trainee. While there for two years, I learned a lot about repairing VWs. My other talent, so to speak, was cooking in restaurants. As a young man, I learned that working in restaurants was good because you always had food to eat. So, between 1972 and 1978, I worked on cars, and I cooked in restaurants. I was a full time cook and was “Bingo the Clown” every Sunday from 1 to 4pm at a Ground Round Restaurant. Yikes!! (I have pictures on request). In 1979, I bought a new black Kawasaki 1000 LTD. My girlfriend and I sold everything we owned and took off into the sunset. We landed in Florida, and since it was September, we decided to stay there. Only thing was my son Benny was conceived on that trip. So, after a few months, we bought a car and drove back to Peterborough, NH to settle down.
In 1980, I started a VW repair service garage in Peterborough. Only one big problem — there were no air cooled VWs anymore. They had all gone to VW heaven. So, I was forced to work on all foreign cars like Hondas, Datsuns, etc. After 2 years, I closed my business. I found myself working at a Exxon station for little money. I was depressed and finally went home and told my family that we were moving to California. No one argued with me, and we were all very excited. However, we had one slight problem — we only had about $2,800.00 for the trip. That did not stop us.
At that point, I packed up my 1958 Blue VW Beetle with my wife and 2½ year old son Benny and headed to California. On the way, we stopped in Connecticut to visit some people, and after seeing the blue Beetle, they gave us $1,000.00 for the trip. I was totally confident we would make it now. Forty-eight MPH was the top speed we had to deal with for 4,000 miles because of the 700 lb cargo we had in the rear seat and on the roof. This was before owning a roof rack was cool. This was necessary. We had two slight problems: one being a broken gas pedal, the other was when we went into a shopping center and came out to find our car was missing. Then, we spotted it about 100 yards away. I forgot the hand brake, and it coasted without accident.
My poor son was 2½ and stuck in a car seat for 8 days. On the 5th day, my son cried “Please Daddy! No blue Beetle today!!” Finally after eight days, we arrived in Southern California. I remember waking up in San Diego as my wife drove and one of the first things I saw was a beautiful VW Beetle going down the freeway. Yes!! We made it!! They were everywhere!! The sad part to this was after a couple months, someone stole our beloved blue Beetle. Never to be seen again.
After arriving on Feb 20, 1982, I had two major jobs. The first being a counselor at Phoenix House, a national substance abuse program based out of NYC. This work was very rewarding, but I had always dreamed of owning my own business of restoring VW Buses and Beetles. No matter what job I had, I was always working on my own VW or a customer’s VW after dinner.
In 1984, I joined a company called Digital Automotive Systems. This was a small startup sub chapter S corp. with family and friends being investors. My wife and I had some extra money, so we invested, and I started working there. Since I could not have my own business at that time, this was second best. Unfortunately, after two years, we closed the doors.
I had become a close friends with Ric Erdman, the president of DAS, and after closing the company, he offered to put up some investment money to buy and sell classic cars. The first thing that came to me was to buy VWs, but Ric didn’t think there was any future in it. So, I started buying classics like BMW 2002s and a Porsche 914-6. Fun stuff, for sure, but my love was VWs. In the late 80’s, the Japanese started to come over to buy VWs for their companies in Japan. As we do here, they also have small shops all over Japan working and restoring VWs.
I did my first restoration at home in my driveway. It was a 1963 Beetle Sunroof. I finished it and brought it to a VW swap meet, and within seconds, a Japanese buyer was at my car door. Then, it began. At every swap meet and car show, there were many Japanese buying VWs. I struck up a good bond with the biggest in importers of VWs to Japan. Mr. Komori, owner of Flat4, was and still is the biggest and most well-known VW personality in Japan. He approached me and promised to buy up to 20 VWs a month from me if I dealt with him exclusively. I agreed, and my partner and I were very excited. We went to Japan to see what was going on there. We learned that the people there loved VW Buses. This went on for about 5 years when the Japanese economy went south. As I did every week, I faxed some prime choices to Flat4 and the reply was “Oh, we don’t need that service anymore, sorry.” What?! I could not believe my eyes. After 6 good years, I just lost my biggest customer. Well, I laid off 6 people, and it was just me and my upholstery guy, Jesse Quintana. Thanks to him, I had patterns for may different seat covers and such. So, I started to advertise our stuff, and people really liked what we had to offer. Mr. Komori and I are still very good friends, and I have personally restored 3 cars in his private museum in Tokyo.
In 1996, I started my web site. Suddenly, I realized that if I put up pictures on this thing called the Internet, our work could be seen by people all over the world. Wow! I was a believer right away. The first time we got 500 hits in a month, I was happy. Now, we get 20,000 a month. When that started to work for me, people we dropping off cars to be restored. At present, we have 8,500 sq feet and 7 employees. We restore VW Buses, Beetles, and more. We mail order VW upholstery and classic VWs all over the world.
Why Volkswagens in the first place?
In 1972, after being trained on them as a mechanic, I started to drive them as my regular car and fell in love.
How did West Coast Classic Restoration begin?
In my gararge in Fullerton, CA. In 1985, I was unemployed and was working on VWs to support my family. After my first restoration in my driveway, one thing led to another.
How many people work for West Coast Classic?
Right now, we have 5 employees. Three of them drive VWs.
What is your favorite year VW to restore and why?
The late ones, (’66-’73) are the easiest, but I really enjoy bringing the earlier ones back to life. So, I’d say ’49-’57 are my favorites.
How many restoration projects is West Coast Classic currently working on?
We stopped doing full restorations last year. We are still finishing up a couple.
Would you walk us through the restoration process from start to finish?
First, we strip the VW down to metal and repair all the metal back to factory specs. We don’t use body fillers to fix dents. If a panel needs to be replaced, we use the factory spot welds. We drill them out and replace the panel. This is a good restoration method and will last for a long time. The chassis gets totally stripped, sent to the sand blaster, and then to the powder coater.
Next, we replace the wiring harness with a new one and redo all the upholstery. Since we do this in-house, we have all the patterns and materials to bring the car back to original specs.
We do all the mechanics with as many German parts as possible. There is a reason for using German parts; they were built to last.
Finally, we assemble the entire chassis before putting the body back on.
Who are your preferred parts providers?
I use Wolfsburg West religiously due to the fact that their parts are the best. The owner, Tony Moore, and I started our businesses at the same time. Also, Tony has been a personal friend of mine for 30 years.
What advice would you give someone wanting to restore one of these cars?
Just do your homework, and don’t cut corners. Do NOT take on more than you can handle.
What are your future plans for West Coast Classic?
We expect to grow our upholstery business considerably.
Is there anything in general you would like to add?
After 26 years, I am still enjoying the VW life. This hobby-business has allowed me to make friends and to travel to many different VW shows all over the world. It sure beats working for a living!!